From The Hand of Fr. Aaron Ferris…March 12, 2017

The spiritual practice, and one of the great Lenten practices, that is probably the most difficult to connect to love is asceticism: fasting, penance, etc. The practice of asceticism is the practice of discipline, which entails some sort of suffering. It might be the mental/emotional suffering of saying no to something that we want or doing the thing we don’t want to do; it might be the physical suffering of hunger when we are fasting; it might be even greater suffering that comes in different forms. The willing embrace of discipline and suffering can seem an odd way to express and live out our call to love God and our neighbor. Because of this paradox, the practice of asceticism deserves our reflection so we can more freely and fully give ourselves to this great work of love.

I think the place to begin is with the effect of this kind of discipline on ourselves. Let’s take fasting as the regular example of what this sort of discipline looks like. When we fast, we have to say no to the natural urges and desires of our bodies. Hunger, physical hunger, is natural and normal; the urge to eat when we are hungry is there to impel us to maintain the physical health and wellbeing of the body. This is a good thing, but in fasting we say no to this good thing.

By saying no to these natural drives, we are gaining control over ourselves. Instead of our urges and desires dictating our behavior, we are growing in our control over ourselves and deciding what our behavior will be regardless of what our feelings or desires tell us. With this growing control over ourselves, we gain the freedom and the power to give our lives in love to someone else.

As an example, who loves a woman more: the guy who cannot control his libidinous urges (I am being circumspect in case the children are reading) and sleeps with every woman he “falls in love with” or the guy who can wait until he gives his whole life over to care for the woman he loves? To put it another way, who loves better: the teenager driven by passions and emotion or the teenager who has some self-control and treats the opposite sex with care?

Asceticism, discipline, fasting, etc. make it possible for us to love because the best part of ourselves, the higher parts of our nature, are in control, and out of that control we can give our whole selves to loving, serving, and caring for God and one another. Asceticism, in the long run, is actually one of the most loving things that we can do because it enables us to be truly free to give all of ourselves in self-donation. No longer driven by urges and desires, we can freely and faithfully and fully choose another person, God or neighbor, to love and serve.

Rev. Aaron Ferris
Rev. Aaron Ferris
Rev. Aaron R. Ferris Ordination Date: June 6, 2009 Pastor, St. Anthony Parish (Saranac) and St. Mary’s Parish (Lowell) 402 Amity Street Lowell, MI 49331 Phone: 616-897-9820
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